Traversa Therapeutics has licensed the non-exclusive, worldwide rights to distribute its core RNAi-delivery technology for research applications to Integrated DNA Technologies, RNAi News has learned.
In doing so, Traversa has achieved its long-standing goal of finding a partner to market the technology for non-therapeutic uses, which the company expects will generate near-term revenues and allow it to focus on in-house drug-development efforts.
The technology, called PTD-DRBD, comprises peptide transduction domains linked with a double-stranded RNA-binding domain. It was developed by University of California, San Diego, researcher and Traversa co-founder Steven Dowdy.
Once coated with PTD-DRBD molecules, siRNAs bind to cell-surface proteoglycans, which stimulates macropinocytosis, according to Traversa. The drug then enters the cell inside a macropinosome, at which point the pH inside the vesicle drops and the siRNA is released from the PTD-DRBD molecules into the cytoplasm.
IDT expects to begin marketing a line of four PTD-DRBD kits under the brand name Transductin "some time in July," CSO Mark Behlke told RNAi News this week.
The first will be a sort of introductory kit containing small amount of the Transductin reagent and positive- and negative-control siRNAs, which can be used to optimize the delivery peptide in a cell system, he said.
Additional kits are expected to contain either 2 milligrams or 10 milligrams of the reagent. Those needing more — for high-throughput screening applications, for instance — will be able to contact IDT to order custom quantities.
In exchange for the technology rights, Traversa will receive royalties on gross product sales, as well as transfer pricing, according to Traversa President and CEO Hans Petersen. Additional terms were not disclosed.
Behlke was optimistic that the adoption rate for the Transductin technology would be strong, but cautioned that it is not designed to replace traditional transfection reagents.
"There is no obvious need to change what's already working, but there are a lot of cell lines that don't transfect well," he said. In many of those cases, "this [technology] works."
Indeed, last month Dowdy and colleagues published data in Nature Biotechnology showing that PTD-DRBD molecules can be used to deliver siRNAs into a variety of primary and transformed cells — including T cells, human umbilical vein endothelial cells, and human embryonic stem cells — with no toxicity or immune-response activation (see RNAi News, 5/21/2009).
In the end, though, "I don't envision this as replacing cationic lipids for HeLa cells," he noted.
Even though Traversa has tapped IDT to get the PTD-DRBD technology into the hands of researchers, the company has left the door open for one more distribution arrangement.
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"We're going to keep the option" of finding another distributor, Petersen told RNAi News. "Different distributors have different specialties. In the case of IDT, they're very strong on the high-throughput screening side [and] … on the institutional side."
But since "each distributor has its strongest market," Traversa may look for one more partner to sell the delivery technology for research use, he said. As of yet, however, the company has no such deal in place.
Meanwhile, Traversa continues to look for companies interested in collaborating on the development of the PTD-DRBD technology for therapeutic applications.
According to Petersen, the firm now has five term sheets under evaluation with potential drug-development partners for deals related to ophthalmic indications, metabolic disease, cancer, central nervous system/pain disorders, and viral disease.
In April, Petersen said that he anticipated an ophthalmic-focused deal to be consummated around the end of September, and at least one other agreement forged before the end of the year (see RNAi News, 4/2/2009). This week, he said he "hopes" that Traversa will be able to meet these goals.
Regarding Traversa's internal drug programs, which include efforts in glioblastoma and ovarian cancer, he said that the company continues to conduct much of the ongoing in vivo and toxicology work using outside consultants.
Although Traversa expects to eventually build up its own staff of scientists, it is holding off on doing so until it can hire a vice president of research and development, who will be given the opportunity to make his or her own hires, Petersen explained.
"We have some good candidates [for the VP position, and] we hope to hire this key individual within the next couple months," he added.
And should Traversa succeed in signing therapeutics collaborations, "there will be more room to hire and to grow," especially because one of potential deals being negotiated includes a strategic investment in the company.